by Todd Walker
The blood of our ancestors flows in our own veins. Our aboriginal legacy is written in the very make-up of our bodies. The ancient caves and campfires of our pasts call to us from within. Primitive Technology is our inheritance as well. It is a world heritage which knows no race, creed, or color. It is foreign to no one. It is the shared thread which links us to our prehistory and binds us together as human beings.
Steve Watts ~ “Primitive Technology, A Book of Earth Skills”
It seems with every generation, the disconnect between the earth and her resources widens. But deep inside us all, our primal roots desire to reconnect with the raw resources that have sustained our species for millennia. Touching our Stone Age past offers this tangible connection.
A simple way to introduce primitive technology to students is by making a Hoko knife. This stone cutting tool was discovered on the Hoko River archeological site in Washington State. A landslide destroyed the native fishing village about 2,700 years ago preserving artifacts of their material culture.
Steps to Making a Hoko Knife
- Sharp stone flake
- Wooden handle
A.) Stone Flakes
You don’t have to possess mad flintknapping skills to construct this simple cutting tool. The original Hoko knife was made of a thumbnail size flake hafted with spruce root to a cedar handle. Archeologist believe this delicate tool was used to butcher fish for eating and longterm preserving.
Our stone flakes were gifted to our class by a good friend and master flintknapper, Justin Cook of Wayback Wilderness. He had a pile of flakes left over from his flintknapping class at our Georgia Bushcraft Fall Campout and offered them to me. I gladly accepted.
You can also make your own flakes. Find a stone which breaks like glass. As you know, broken glass creates sharp edges. My friend and primitive skills mentor, Scott Jones, introduced me to bipolar flaking. Use a hammerstone and stone anvil to strike smaller stones which fracture into sharp, straight, useable flakes. Flat, long flakes work best for this application.
B.) Wood Selection
Next to our outdoor classroom, a willow (Salix) tree grows in our secondhand beaver pond. I cut a finger-size branch for handle material. I also had a section of box elder (Acer negundo) left over from friction fire kits. We used both for our project since they’re split easily and evenly. Experiment with woods in your locale to find what works for you.
Since we haven’t taught natural cordage yet, students used manmade cordage to haft the flakes in place. A partial spool of tarred bank line is what we had left over from our bamboo shelter construction project. Natural cordage options in our woods include inner bark of several trees, dogbane, yucca, cattail, and many more. Artificial sinew, real sinew, or leather would also serve as good bindings.
Split one end of your handle with either a stone flake or metal knife. If the split starts to run off to one side, bend the thicker half more than the thinner half to even up the sides. The split should be long enough to accept the flake with room for binding the split end.
With the flake inserted in the split stick, lash the split ends together. With modern line, we used a jam knot to start the lashing (clove hitch also works). After 4 or 5 tight wraps, we tied two half hitches (down-n-dirty clove hitch) to secure the line. This provides enough friction to hold the flake securely. The problem point with this method is the chance that the handle will continue to split on the un-lashed side. To help prevent this, give the backside of the flake one wrap to reach the other side of the handle. Terminate the lashing just above the flake with two half hitches.
Without fish to butcher, we used our new stone tools to scrape bark off handles. I need to bring a mess of fish to class soon for some experimental archeology. One student asked, “Would this thing cut the head off a fish?” We shall find out.
Additional Hoko Resources:
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when I was a kid we made those from tin can lids
sharpened them on street pavers…sharp as razors
I guess we didn’t know they were a thing:)
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